External Review to Drive Campus Safety Reform

On Oct. 27, campus safety directors from three different colleges visited Connecticut College to discuss reforms in campus policing. This was part of an external review that the college is undertaking in order to better serve the safety and educational needs of students. Directors from Williams College, Muhlenberg College and Gettysburg College spoke during an SGA meeting and highlighted what is going right at their institutions. There are common trends at these schools; officers are in regular contact with students, work with student organizations to improve relationships and perceive their jobs as educators (or “teachers with badges,” as David Boyer of Williams describes it).

As Dean Arcelus told The College Voice, Connecticut College has been on a path to improve campus safety for the last several months. This vision has been in the works since the beginning of this calendar year, but especially after the events on the morning of Oct. 16, Arcelus believes that “pivotal work needs to be done in developing relationships” between officers and students. The essential goal of this vision is to create an atmosphere of mutual respect, so that officers keep the campus safe and also act in ways that benefit students.

Coming out of the external review, Arcelus believes that incorporating education into the task of maintaining safety is a major priority. To do this, the college will need to undergo a “cultural change,” in which all elements of the administration are devoted to education. This need has become particularly apparent in the middle of the external review. Arcelus is adamant that, as part of the campus, “officers are educators.” Acting in ways that benefit students also means educating them on safe behavior. Just as officers at Williams College use lock-outs as teaching moments (often encouraging students to lock their doors), Arcelus believes that officers here can work to teach students safe behavior, instead of focusing solely on punishment. He stresses that students still need to be accountable for their actions, but adds that there is ample opportunity for teaching moments.

But these moments cannot happen magically. A key that both Arcelus and John McKnight, Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion, find in healthy relationships between campus safety and students is that there is some form of familiarity between the two groups. From the external review, Arcelus believes that there should be “more opportunity for contact that is not in the moment.” Instead of first contact being in high-stress situations, students and officers can get to know each other in more relaxed settings. McKnight echoes Arcelus’ view, believing that, across the country, “the role of a campus safety officer is changing.” As a part of the cultural change on campus, McKnight thinks that campus safety can be proactive in the community, working regularly with student organizations and taking part in campus events. Just as they can be educators, they can also “help to build the community” while keeping it safe.

How can this be done? McKnight mentioned that his office is working with students to organize a program to build relationships with local police departments through sports. They plan to host an event in the spring that will bring students together with officers from local precincts in athletic competition. This aligns with Arcelus’ view that building stronger relationships with both the New London and Waterford Police Departments is a key to effective policing on campus. Both Arcelus and Stewart Smith, Director of Campus Safety, have been in regular contact with the Deputy Chief of the NLPD. This external review will help to better align the NLPD’s operations with those of campus safety.

During a meeting between the officers participating in the external review and students on SGA, Williams Campus Safety director David Boyer specifically stressed the importance of providing programming which fosters community between students and officers while also discussing current issues relating to criminal justice and police brutality. In recent years, Boyer invited members from the justice department to discuss cultural competence with his officers. He also invited a national speaker to discuss inherent bias with students, officers and local community members. McKnight has expressed interest in hosting experts on community policing to speak with campus safety at Conn about new ways of keeping campuses safe.

All three officers participating in the external review have met with black and latinx student groups to further understand and address student policing concerns. In the past year, Conn has begun to take some steps to similarly address the diverse concerns of students. Before this school year, Stewart Smith invited both McKnight and Erin Duran, Director of the LGBTQIA Center, to training with campus safety. At the training, they had a discussion about identities, and how race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities play a role in policing.

McKnight is committed to working on this cultural change. He believes that it is “very much a part of my job to be involved.” Though he attended training before the year began, and has formed good relationships with individual officers, he would like to see more growth in his formal contact with campus safety. There is a lot of room, he thinks, for more extensive training with his office to ensure that officers are helping to build a community.

Following the visit from these three directors, the College now has a platform with which to work. By taking a step back, the College can better understand what the role of campus safety is: helping to protect students, while also educating them. •